LumaFest makes education fun

The annual open house at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Petaluma campus offers hands on games and activities in a festive, Day of the Dead atmosphere|

Who knew that going to school could be so much fun?

For the hundreds of adults and kids who turned out for the annual LumaFest at the Petaluma campus of Santa Rosa Junior College on Saturday there were opportunities to concoct their own slime, play veterinarian in a real lab with stuffed animal patients and watch a magic show staged by chemistry teachers.

It was a hands-on affair, aimed at drawing the community to the campus and showing off the school’s many clubs, services and programs in an atmosphere that felt more like a festival than an educational open house.

Samantha Dietz, 26, an art major from Santa Rosa, was helping out at the chemistry club table, one of the popular attractions for the youngest campus visitors.

“They don’t care about the science. They just want to make slime,” Dietz said of the gooey and gluey concoction they love to squeeze. “But that’s totally OK. It’s the first step toward turning them into little scientists, and they start wondering how things are made.”

In the new veterinary technician lab, kids could take selfies with a sloth and practice pretend procedures in a mock surgical suite on a teddy bear or administer exams on toy animals using real veterinary instruments.

In addition to sparking an interest in learning among kids, the open house is a chance to showcase many of the school’s programs. The Petaluma campus offers studies in 30 different disciplines and 13 career certificate programs, including the vet tech course, said Catherine Williams, the dean of instruction.

Vet techs, who are the registered nurses of animal medicine, are in high demand, said Dr. Dan Famini, who heads up the program.

“I’m getting calls from animal hospitals, every week just desperate for vet techs,” he said. It’s not an easy ride. About 200 start the program each year, he said, but only 20 make it through to graduation.

From its inception five years ago, LumaFest has partnered with Petaluma’s El Dia de los Muertos, a month of activities around the Latin American Day of the Dead, where departed loved ones are invited back with altars of photographs and food and drink.

The campus open house takes on a Latino theme, with colorful Day of the Dead cut paper streamers hanging along hallways, lots of orange paper marigolds like those used to adorn holiday altars, mariachi music and young girls performing Ballet Folklorico.

Campus officials said ?LumaFest is a way for the Petaluma campus to establish its own identity. Just as the Santa Rosa campus has its Day Under the Oaks, with a heavy focus on Native American culture, the Petaluma campus embraces a Latino theme. More than a third of the 6,400 students who attend the Petaluma campus are Latino.

“Years and years ago we participated in the Day Under the Oaks,” said Jane Saldana-?Talley, vice president for academic affairs and the Petaluma campus. “But we realized early on that as long as we’re under the oaks, no one will know what SRJC Petaluma is.”

An art room was turned over to kids, who got to decorate Day of the Dead sugar skulls and make their own paper marigolds to add to family and community altars dedicated to loved ones.

Dolores Cabrera of Petaluma brought her 12-year-old daughter, who she said loved squirting frosting onto her own skull. More than 400 were handmade for the day.

“I really think it makes her more involved in my culture,” said Cabrera, who was born in Veracruz, Mexico. “It’s important she start doing things like this now, even just the little things, so we don’t risk losing it.”

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at 707-521-5204 or On Twitter @megmcconahey.

Meg McConahey

Features, The Press Democrat

Like most everyone, I love a good feature story that takes me somewhere I’ve never been or tells me something I don’t know. Where can I take you? Who in Sonoma County would you like to know better? I cover the people, places and ideas that make up Sonoma County, with general features, people profiles and home and garden, interior design and architecture stories. Hit me up with your tips, ideas and burning questions.


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